Leading bars are popping up in Soho Houses this year to give members and bartenders a different experience. Here’s what happened when a famous New York tiki bar took over at the Little Beach House
When the team from New York tiki bar Happiest Hour flew into California for two one-night-only pop-ups, members at Little Beach House in Malibu and Soho House West Hollywood were guaranteed a great night. For our bar teams it was also a chance to get even better at what they do. “It’s great to see a different team in action and be inspired,” Spenser Genesy, bar manager at Little Beach House Malibu, says. “We’re all so busy that we get inside our own rhythm.”
Usually based in the West Village, Happiest Hour is one of New York’s most popular bars, known not just for its lively crowds and island décor but for offering a range of consumer-friendly customisable drinks. Cocktails such as the Maid to Order (cucumber, lime and mint), can be made with your choice of gin, rum or tequila.
The team ran a successful takeover at Soho House New York in April and soon after, talks started about bringing Happiest Hour’s beverage director Jim Kearns and a small bar team out to LA. “Happiest Hour is one of my favourite New York bars,” says Libby Wicks, Soho House’s events programming manager. “I jumped at the chance to host them here.”
Part of our Food and Drink 2018 programme, the idea of the takeovers is to bring in new ideas, Libby explains. “We want to be on the cutting edge of what’s happening in food and drink. Part of that is bringing in people who are leading the charge.”
The main challenge for Happiest Hour, which is known for making drinks with custom syrups, was how to recreate them across the country. Realising that his team would not have the time or space to recreate their custom cold-pressed red pepper mix in California, Happiest Hour’s Jim Kearns and his team spent the days leading up to their flight batching syrups, then carefully packing up 27 one-litre soda bottles. “We flew out with boxes and boxes of syrups,” he says. “We’re going to be the TSA’s favourite people on that day, so we might as well make it worth it.”
Members were greeted with leis, and entered rooms overflowing with tropical plants. A tiki trio sang while guests sipped on slushy pina coladas and drinks such as the Belle of the Ball (red pepper, lemon, habanero and a choice of mezcal, tequila or gin) and the Pineapple Express (pineapple, sage, lime, with either cachaca, rum or tequila). Two large format drinks (the Pina Colada and the Mango Mango) were available in a dragon bowls for groups of two to four. As a bar snack, members and guests were treated to Happiest Hour’s famous burger and fries.
In many ways, a tiki party in Los Angeles just makes sense. “The Little Beach House is right on the water,” Libby says. “There is an open-air terrace. The waves are crashing. The tiki concept is so perfect for Malibu.” The West Hollywood location, meanwhile, was decorated with pink lighting, to reflect the Happiest Hour’s décor.
“It was such a fun experience,” Libby says. “That’s not the style of drinks we normally serve but members respond well to new and different things. They were delighted that we were creating a tiki bar inside Soho House.” Around 200 people came along, and still more enjoyed drink specials featuring the leftover syrups in the days that followed.
The team and members are now looking forward to their next takeover, this time by The Rum House. “People love that scarcity,” says Libby. “The idea that for one night only you’ll be transported to this bar in New York from your club in LA. That’s what makes it special.”
And while the Happiest Hour team has long returned home, their influence lingers at the Little Beach House. Look for a Happiest Hour-inspired cocktail on menus this summer. “Their style rubbed off on me,” says Spenser. The new drink will feature coconut milk, calamansi, pineapple and two rums. “It’s simple, in the vein of a pina colada but with a health-conscious vibe for Malibu.”